Free at Last

It is quite a saga and to be fair pretty exciting however exasperating at how little we still know about the prospect given how official channels are very tight lipped about the whole project. The main takeaways in addition to earlier snippets: Free At Last – Extended Edition will be released in November on 2 LPs.

Top of the marlbank wish list for 13 months in terms of records we want to get hold of is now the slightly more imminent reissue than it was then of the Mal Waldron album Free At Last, which is still impossible to find in the physical LP format. Even on CD you would need to be a super sleuth journeying deep to ring the doorbell of some eccentric shop in somewhere like Penge or Potter’s Bar to have a hope of finding one because it was the first album ECM put out almost 50 years ago and yep that starts everyone on a sentimental journey even if they were only ankle biters at the time or remarkably given the power of all our imaginations among the unborn.

The record itself was released not in 1969, however. It was recorded in late-November of that year and so label history begins with the recording session and then ECM itself began in terms of its public release on 1 January 1970 and that started the whole Edition of Contemporary Music story rolling.

We all have known for a while that extra tracks will be made available on the reissue. Thankfully unlike a lot of reissues this is actually an important record historically even though it is so atypical in many ways in terms of the vast majority of the ECM output certainly varied and highly eclectic in recent years. It may very well not have seemed at all like that at the time.

Waldron in his note on the original LP wrote: “As you can see and hear this album marks for me a different approach to my music. It represents my meeting with free jazz. Free jazz for me does not mean complete anarchy or disorganised sound. In my vocabulary disorganised sound still means noise. And don’t forget that the definition of music is organised sound.”

Familiarise yourself with Impressions ten years before Free At Last if you have some quality listening time available. No wonder ECM wanted Waldron on the brand new label. Waldron (piano) here with Addison Farmer (bass) and Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath (drums) recorded at the Rudy Van Gelder studio in Hackensack, New Jersey on 20 March 1959.

Marlbank understands that the release will be in the form as the lead format of a 2-LP set which will come out in mid-November although this release date might slip given the fact that ECM are fastidious about test pressings often rejecting batches of them until the product is right and vinyl in the UK also takes longer than in Germany to reach the shops and there is let us not forget also the not insignificant matter of the pesky Dog’s Breakfast shape of Johnson to come before that which might mean that we will all be living in a cave and eating cold baked beans from a spoon: best case scenario.

Free at Last: The Extended Edition, no track titles relating to the extra tracks are known beyond the inner circle in Munich HQ. Presumably everyone has taken a vow of silence down by the autobahn as usual. Leaks are frowned upon.

Anyway dear anoraks quick recap: Waldron made history as one of the great Billie Holiday accompanists. The Free at Last trio had Isla Eckinger on double bass and Clarence Becton on drums and the album was recorded on 24 November 1969 at the Tonstudio in Ludwigsburg. Tracks were: ‘Rat Now,’ ‘Balladina,’ ‘1-2-234,’ ‘Rock My Soul,’ ‘Willow Weep For Me’ and ‘Boo’. All titles were written by Waldron with the exception of the Ann Ronell standard ‘Willow Weep For Me’. A CD was issued in 2000.

The album was produced by Manfred Scheffner who sadly died recently. Scheffner was known for the marvellous initially pre-Internet reference book the Bielefelder Katalog (now online) which for a long time was one of the most prized books in various editions on my bookshelf and desk, an extremely accurate and well produced list of records available to buy which was frequently updated – and was an outstanding achievement of research, knowledge and record business insight. SG